Why I walked away from a dream job, into an unknown future.

In How I got Here, Lifestyle by Carly1 Comment

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Long time readers and beady-eyed subscribers will have already found out – I left my incredible job at the end of last month.

After 5 years leading a team of brilliant, hard-working teams across the world, as Global Head of Sales for Austria’s most successful startup, TourRadar, I walked away at the end of March.

On paper this is a really, really dumb idea.

The job itself, and the company, are only growing in esteem and success.

After years of grinding in anonymity, endless overtime hours and good old fashioned hard-work, the last 12 months delivered a breakthrough. Investment from a prestigious VC company. Global recognition. A growing global team and schmick office in the heart of Vienna.

We’ve had year on year achievements beyond anyones expectations. I was proud to be a founding team member from 2013, leading a highly successful, committed team of travel lovers from all over the world, who united to achieve & succeed.

It was also, to put it bluntly, a freaking unbelievable job for a migrant in Vienna to get.

Especially one who can barely drink coffee without making a mess…

English is the primary language of the office, I work closely with fellow expats and Australians. The office is (nowadays) filled with games, complimentary snacks and drinks, like-minded young people and all the hallmarks of ‘fun’ startup companies.

This is a freaking miracle in Austria. Every local who visits our office cannot believe their eyes. Having worked in the drearier, more traditional Austrian offices, I fully understand what a unicorn TourRadar is on the scene.

Beyond the company culture, personally over the last 5 years, I transitioned into a very digital-first, exciting role.

The position over the last five years progressed my career beyond belief. From being a travel agent and tour guide, to become the only female executive on the management team, managing 70+ people and consistently devising strategies for growth across all elements of the company.

To be even more blunt – by the time I left, I was earning a salary above the average Vienna income (but probably well below the engineers’ salary!)

So why would I walk away from something that, on paper, was a ‘dream job?’

The reality is, what appears to be a ‘dream’ on paper, never quite lives up to the hype in reality.

 

The Start of the End

I think I knew, deep down, subconsciously, for probably the last 18 months that I was on some level unhappy in my job.

Much of it was caused by my own mighty-high expectations of myself and ‘reaching my potential’. Combined with the pressure & pace of continual relentless growth that is a necessity for startups.

The other part of it was my own internal misalignment, a sense that while I *could* keep doing this job and was undoubtedly proving myself capable and useful and needed, this particular role wasn’t the dream job for me.

There was a scratching at the back of my brain that time was passing, and if I didn’t make a change soon, my personal career and business goals would be swallowed up in the juggernaut.

 
 
 
 
 
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Trying to wander away from my problems like…nope nope nope….

Another factor, and one which I wasn’t able to completely verbalise until I saw it reported in the McKinsey ‘Women in the Workplace’ study, was the added pressure of being an ‘Only’ woman representative at a leadership level.

You can read the full breakdown of their definition here but essentially, being a solo woman on an all-male team can wear you down.

Too few women results in too many “Onlys”—women who are the only or one of the only women in the room. One in five women is an Only, and they are having a significantly worse experience than women who work with more women. They are more likely to deal with microaggressions. They often feel on guard, pressure to perform, and left out…These negative experiences take a toll on women Onlys. Despite having higher ambitions to be promoted and become a top executive, they are 1.5 times more likely to think about leaving their job than women who are not Onlys.

Women in the Workplace, 2018

With that all said, it was far from all doom and gloom in my position.

The real ‘problem’ was – there were so many good things holding me to the job!

I loved my teammates, we were succeeding finally after years of hard work, and who the hell walks away from a well paid, exciting, respected, fun- loving job? In TRAVEL for goodness sakes!

So many people want to break into the industry, it felt extremely ungrateful for me to not appreciate the incredibly privileged position I was in.

So I stuck it out. And there were just enough highs to ride out the stressed, exhausting, frustrating lows. Most of the time.

The internal battle between my gut instincts ringing a tiny alarm bell and my rational brain knowing that I was so lucky and should suck it up, was an ongoing, underlying soundtrack to my days.

The issue was, I only noticed it on the very rare occasions I stopped to take a breath from the daily busy grind.

Which to be honest, wasn’t that often – we were so busy! Our work was paying off! My team members are awesome and I loved supporting their careers! Look how ‘successful’ things are!

This was the point at which I should have recognised – success doesn’t have one singular definition. You have to define success for yourself – a lesson I’m still working towards.

The Tipping Point

There are a hundred different things that led up to my personal break point and decision to walk away. Three major ones stand out.

  1. Experiencing true burnout in May of 2018
  2. Attending Traverse Travel Bloggers conference
  3. Losing my love of travel

Although they seem disconnected, each of these instances made me realise it was time for a change.

#1 – Ah Burnout, my old friend, we meet again.

I’ve spoken a few times on the blog about burnout – almost annually in fact. Here in 2016, and again in 2017. By May of 2018 though, it was reaching a level I had never experienced, nor could I find a way out with my normal techniques.

Despite riding high from the biggest success of the company I had helped to build from the ground up, I was disconnected from everything.

I caught myself at times feeling like I was floating above my own body – seeing ‘Carly’ below me perform all the duties, jokes and smiles that she was supposed to in certain settings, but utterly distant from it.

I was a ghost in my own life. Couldn’t really feel joy, but was numb enough to not really be in the depths of sadness either. Just – disconnected.

Like this, but less arty and with more curly hair

It’s hard to describe, but my brain would play all sorts of ‘catastrophizing’ tricks on me. Imagining and playing out internally future conversations and confrontations that were yet to occur. Trying to think 3 steps ahead in certain scenarios to ‘stay on top of things’ which just created unnecessary stress. I was worried about things that hadn’t even happened yet!

All the while I kept a ‘face’ on, that everything was cool, calm and under control. Because for the most part it was, and I could very effectively do my job, and do it well. Shoutout to all the Type A over-performers who excel under pressure, whaddup!

But it was costing me my mental health and separating me from my life outside of work.

The biggest factor what that as a leader, and a stubborn wench at that, I never really talked or shared about the struggles I was going through with anyone. Occasionally I would vent to Stefan, but as the perennial ‘oldest responsible sibling’ I took it upon myself to find a solution, always, alone.

One of the key elements of success when working in an ever changing environment, is your ability to keep finding solutions, think on your feet and be prepared with answers at all times.

I got so trained at this, so good at answering the question ‘What do you think we should do?’ with answers and solutions already prepared, that I stopped asking for help, entirely. This was entirely self-inflicted.

Looking back, I can see how utterly that isolated me from finding help and support when I needed it most. Did I mention I’m stubborn and strong willed?

Now – I’ve moved through that, sought help, and am talking regularly to anyone who will listen about the value and need of communicating your struggles, challenges and finding a support network!

Without it, it’s a slippery slope to burnout.

#2 – Attending Traverse Bloggers Conference

Ok this one sounds random but I think was a real turning point!

I love attending networking conferences in the travel blogging industry. Not only are they super fun, filled with people who nerd out just as much as I do over bloggy things, but they are incredibly practical and a great way to keep up with the fast-paced industry.

Traverse in particular has a well respected reputation as the best travel bloggers conference in Europe.

In 2018, I attended the Rotterdam Traverse Conference and loved every second of it. I met some blogging superstars, learned from some incredible experts, had a ball frolicking around Rotterdam and savoured every minute of it.

The thing I recognised specifically this time around though, was that after years of blogging, I wasn’t really dumber, or less talented than people who were making a living from their platforms.

As cliche as it sounds – there wasn’t anything incredibly ‘special’ about bloggers who were succeeding, they just…did the work. They committed 100% on achieving their version of success.

The reason this was a turning point for me, personally, was I could see fellow bloggers and content creators who had started at the same time as I had, or even later, but managed to go balls to wall with it and commit entirely to making a living out of what they loved.

First, I got so, so frustrated & angry at myself by that thought.

I was mad, raging at myself for not being ‘successful enough’ sooner. Despite all the time poured into my blog, I was jealous that others, who I could see were not especially more knowledgable than I was, were making it work. Truthfully – and this is pretty shameful to admit – that thought upset me for longer than it should have.

Then it turned a switch in my brain.

I realised that if I wanted to do that, to really commit to building a business and pursuing this blog as more than just a ‘fun hobby´, something would have to give.

The visceral reaction I had when I realised all the ‘big name’ successful bloggers were just ordinary people who worked their asses off, not magical wizards who found the ‘trick’ to success, led me to finally acknowledge what I really, truly wanted to work on.

The years were passing anyway – it was up to me to decide how I wanted to spend them. What to pursue, and what was truly important not just in work, but in my life balance.

#3 – Holy shit. Losing my love of travel & looking at my life quality.

Another weird one for a travel blogger to confess! But it’s true, in the second half of 2018 I noticed that my love and drive to travel and explore…dried up.

Normally I would jump at a chance to stride off into a new city, camera in hand, asking a million questions about the history and culture.

But last year I was just….empty. Exhausted. In all elements of my life.

All I wanted to do was stay close to home, potter around the balcony, maybe at most, go to Tirol for a weekend. Given the chance to book any tour in the world I chose – a river cruise from Nurnberg to Vienna.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a lovely relaxing trip through Germany and Austria but…it wasn’t really ‘me’.

This was so far removed from the girl who pushed for weekend getaways in Italy, Prague, Rome and Budapest at the drop of a hat. Who was thrilled at the idea of camping in Kyrgyzstan for 2 weeks….and a real wake-up call internally that something was off. That I couldn’t muster that same excitement.

 

On top of my dwindling interest in what had been a driving passion for most of my adult life – I was feeling the lack of balance in my everyday life.

I wanted to speak better German, nurture my friendships outside of work circles, learn how to cook dinner more than once in a blue moon. Hell, at that point, I’d settle for being home for dinner before 7pm most nights of the week.

The ‘balance’ of work/life had been weighted strongly on the ‘work’ side for far too long. Although this may be the case for most people in the Western World, living in Austria and learning from self-employed mentors made me recognise that I craved a better balance in my life.

For me, those everyday activities and engagement with the world outside of work were becoming increasingly important.

Slow Recognition & Resolution

There was no one day that I woke up with a light bulb moment and said ‘Today is the day I leave my job and change my life!’

I know a lot of the ‘I quit my job to travel‘ hype articles would have you believe that, but my story is more…realistic.

I have a partner to take into account. We rent a beautiful apartment in a city I love. I also have a visa that is dependant on my income level and years spent in Austria. And through all my struggles, I still loved the company I was working for, but knew it was time for a change.

At thirty-three years old, having already moved across the planet and married for a Visa, I didn’t have the blasé freedom to ‘drop everything and travel’. Very few of us do.

GOTA Coffee Experts Vienna Review

I also have a raging coffee addiction to support

What I did instead of ‘quitting my job to travel’ was take my time for slow recognition and re-evaluation of what I needed to change in my life.

What were the things that filled me, challenged me, and (pre- Mari Kondo!) brought me joy? What kind of life did I want to build with Stefan? What fires were burning within that I had to tend to?

And, amongst all those existential questions, the cold hard cash-related question – how could I maintain my positive relationship working with the company I loved and that had given me so much in Austria?

It was a slow process, and extricating myself from a senior management role took delicate timing, negotiation and honesty from both sides of the table.

But I’m extremely proud of the outcome and way it has been handled if I do say so myself.

Walking the tight line of respect, recognition and honestly asking for what changes were needed was the first step to building a new way forward.

Then – I walked away, towards a new future.

Walking out of that old life like…

So now we’re here. After what turned out to be a long process of self reflection, work and trusting my decisions, I’ve managed to land myself exactly where I wanted to be.

Yes, I walked away from a full time, high flying, executive role in a sexy company with impressive titles and experience.

But, I’ve managed to find a way I can still be an integral part of the growth of TourRadar, working part-time, while tending to my personal goals, mental health and work/life balance.

These are the things I recognise as important to me.

Money, status, FOMO, competitiveness and the green-eyed envy monster can all push us into places we know, in our heart of hearts aren’t quite the right fit.

It took me years – literal years! – to start listening to my gut instinct enough and walk away to a new beginning.

In a weeks time I’ll be ‘starting’ my new role at my old company. Working two days a week there, and the rest of the week will be for building this blog into a business. Exploring creative projects. Cooking. Sleeping. Learning the Ukelele and who knows what else.

My income and title won’t be as impressive. But I hope the quality of life, the joy in my days will be.

And of course – I hope you’ll stick around to hear how the next chapter in my story of life in Austria plays out.

If you made it this far you deserve a medal!

Thanks for reading – if you want to join our growing Austrian Adaptation community you can subscribe below for regular updates. Normally they are about slow travel & living in Vienna, with a sprinkling of life updates & recommendations.

Comments

  1. That is so exciting! Congrats on leaving that job behind, and I’m looking forward to watching this space and seeing what comes next.

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